Alexandra

Question #3: How does Giselle die?

36 posts in this topic

Correct me if I've misinterpreted this, but I think that in Berthe's mime in Act I, she begins by saying something like, "Out there [ie, in the forest] where the graves are [making the sign of crosses, like tombstones]...." Either the cemetery must be in the forest because of the mime, or the other way round. Or I might not be "reading" the mime correctly. But has anyone else noticed this?

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Good point! Maybe they buried all girls who loved dancing too much in the forest so it would be easier for them to become Wilis :) Wouldn't want Myrtha to have to wander through town, or get too close to the church :)

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ummm.... from somewhere I had the idea that Albrecht was safe as long as he remained next to Giselle's cross... (from where? from where?)... but that he was lured off of it...

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I've always seen this as like those Biblical stories who have all the important events both ways. Like in Genesis, whereh the same story is told in all its variants.

Giselle is buried inthe forest because Ophelia was buried in the forest -- and Giselle owes tremendously to Hamlet -- both hte unready prince and hte freaked- out heroine's madness, orbit in the gravitational sphere of Hamlet.

But it's sweet to think that Giselle is delicate because as Chauviree said, she's from hte wrong side of hte blanket and has a drop of the high-strung noble blood in her. Which is part of what attracts Albrecht to her. This is pretty scandalous stuff, but the French like to think like that -- and it certainly is fitting to the story to think of her as one in a LINE of peasant girls who've been taken advantage of by hte landlord. (THough I like Albrecht to be ALSO super-high-strung and desperately in love with Giselle, like Baryshnikov was.) So she's got that finer quality, and also that weak constitution, by breeding -- perhaps it's not in the libretto, but Chauviree was many people thought one of hte very greatest Giselles of her era.

The most interesting thing I've read about htis recently is Osipova's interview about doing Giselle -- the section hwere she said that in doing hte mad scene, she actually lost rtrack of what she was doing -- that she got 4 text messages during intermission from people who were afraid she'd gone round hte bend -- including one from her mother. And she acknowledges that it DID mess with her mind. And it DOES look on hte Youtubeclip like she stabbed herself but it wasn't enough -- and it also sounds like she herself, hte ballerina, does not know WHAT she did when she was in the throes of the action. VERY great performance; it's up on Youtube -- check it out for yourselves, everybody, and see what you think.

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Suicide? Shock? Broken heart? Heart attack?

What a fascinating thread!

You could certainly find productions that have featured suicide (a few), heart failure (many), heart failure plus suicidal attempt (a few), plus many that leave it it up to you; there's certainly a broken heart, but who knows what 'physically' did the deed. Most productions suggest that everyone thinks she's going to stab herself, whether she does or not.

And as people have said, most of these approaches have been made to work - even stabbing herself with a three-foot sword without visible blood (too much reading of 'the merchant of venice?').

The only time I've been concerned, is the few productions that over-egg the weak heart; sometimes you wish they'd just hang a sign around her neck saying "WEAK HEART, HINT HINT". While it's important to the story to be able to look back and think "Ah, all this dancing, stress and betrayal, that's what done it", I'm not convinced we need to be thinking "Crikey, one more solo and she'll be popping her cloggs" - it's distracting.

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Boy, this is indeed a fascinating thread. Thank you Amy, Paul and Andrew for bringing it back to life. I'm anxious to see what additional thoughts BTer's will share with us.

There seem to be two categories of response to this question. One looks objectively at the origins of the story and its performance history. The other takes a more subjective point of view, looking at what major Giselles have felt and performed on stage, what makes sense or does not make sense to the individual viewer.

Both approaches are full of possibilities.

I confess to being one of those who hasn't given much thought to these matters. Perhaps it's the inherent improbability of so many Romantic-era operas and plays, not to mention ballets, that I've seen over the years. With such works, I've become conditioned to accepting ambiguities and contradictions on stage that I would not be willing to accept in life.

As several posters have implied, it's probably a good idea to examine the work from the point of view of 19th century audiences, even if we then decide to follow a different interpretive path. I especially appreciated insights about performance history such as those below:

I read, in Ivor Guest's book on Giselle, I think, that originally in France she did stab herself, like Marc says. Then when Giselle went to Russia, she wasn't allowed to kill herself on stage due to religious proscriptions.
Is it possible the original creators Gautier et. al. didn't really think through all the details completely?
Gautier et al. probably didn't think through all of the details, but the problem is also that we don't really see what they were thinking about, or intended. Giselle has been handed down and altered.
I have a very clear memory of reading that the suicide death was deemed necessary for Grisi because she wasn't a strong enough actress to carry off a mad scene and a les concrete death, but when Fanny Elssler got the role she, in effect, said, "La Elssler does not need a sword to die!" and, voila!, we have the mad scene we all know and love today. This would match the inconsistencies in the libretti -- the original, nonsuicide one submitted to the Theater and the slightly later one that matched the stage action.

We have no censorship on these issues today, at least not in the Western world. Audiences either lack theological interest in these topics or are accustomed to separating their own value system from things that they see on the stage. This leaves us with the matter that interests me the most -- what works best on stage? I like the idea of allowing the individual ballerina to choose her own method of death -- the one which she can portray most effectively.

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I think ANY explanation is preferable to one that starts, "She has these really bad gallstones, see...." :pinch:

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I just got a hold on Dolin's book on Markova and I'm also revisiting Markova's Giselle and I. Considering how close she was to Petipa's rendering of the ballet-(via Sergueeff and Spessivtseva, and even having being taught some of the role's "secrets" by the latter one)-I found important to quote her.

Hence, this is what Markova has to say about this particular matter-(Giselle's death).

"Giselle, to my way of thinking, is not a suicide. Her brain snaps as the result of a very severe mental shock and an ensuing nervous and emotional collapse. When she sees the sword on the ground, according to Sergueeff, she takes it to be a serpent. She picks it up by the point and presses it to her bosom, like Cleopatra and the asp. Had she wished to kill herself by the sword, she would have picked it up by the hilt and driven it through her body, or fallen upon it in the best Roman tradition. By that time she is isolated from the others because she no longer recognises them. Her strength begins to ebb, and her heartbeats show signs of exhaustion.

At this point some ballerinas look at their hands with horror, imagining they are covered with blood from the wound. There is no blood on her hands because the wound was a mere pinprick. Giselle regards her hands and arms with terror because they are growing cold and she is conscious of an increasing paralysis. She rubs them in a futile attempt to restore the circulation. Then her breathing gives trouble. She feels she is choking. It is the end. She collapses on the ground, dying because she has nothing to live for..."

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On another point brought up here, It doesn't seem completely unthinkable that the Wilis could be "associated with", "hanging out at", or um..."living" in a graveyard, one where Christian graves are almost all topped with crosses. Heinrich Heine's concept of the Wili does not appear to imply that these poor maidens were sinners and condemned to be buried apart from other Christian church-goers. That has been mentioned here, but where did that idea come from? They are clearly pitiable maidens who, like Giselle, probably died of broken hearts. Wouldn't they likely be buried in the church graveyard? The traditional place for "ghosts" is certainly the graveyard, eg. when you were a child (or perhaps even now) did you not "whistle by the graveyard" to keep the ghosts of the dead buried there from intercepting you unexpectedly as you walked past? The placing of the Wilis in the forest is confusing, to be sure. This does take place is Germany, notable for its great forests close upon its towns! Perhaps this is a more interesting place to dance in the moonlight than around the gravestones.

"...Meyer's Konversationslexikon defines Wiles or Wilis as female vampires, the spirits of betrothed girls who die before their wedding night. According to Heine, Wilis are unable to rest in their graves because they could not satisfy their passion for dancing..." In vampire lore, suicides are good candidates for vampires--the suicide is buried in unhallowed ground, normally in a crossroads (to confuse the emerging vampire). If Giselle did originally commit suicide, she would have been buried outside of the churchyard and left open to being taken in by the Willis. The fact that Albrecht is safe when cowering under the cross over Giselle's grave shows that they very well may fear holy things.

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A very good point, and certainly easier to explain as folklore than to have the Wilis first enter a ballroom and enchant the floor, as a proposed scenario started.

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I'm currently reading Marian Smith's new translation of the original published libretto (which she gives both in original French and English translation), and see that Giselle does not stab herself: "... [Giselle] is about to let herself fall on its [the sword's] sharp point, when her mother hurries toward her and grabs it away."

It's too bad that this wasn't the choice for the Seattle production. It would have given more depth to Berthe's character.

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